Chi-Town Celtic punk-rockers come up short of expectations on latest effort.
Formulating before Irish mainstays Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys, the Tossers may have all the credibility in the world. I mean, come on. Punker-than thou scene rats everywhere seem to think that the people who do it first should always be the more noted, accomplished, and, well, credible acts. Just ask any Mohawk-wearing high school drop out about Good Charlotte and see what happens.
What seems to never get taken into consideration are the reasons why those credible veterans never seem to get the notoriety that newer acts get. Well, reason number one is that the newbies typically do it better. A lot better. And while the Tossers may have done the Celtic thing much longer than the two aforementioned bands, they could never hold a candle to the amount of success both Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys have achieved.
And there is a reason for that. Those two bands are better. A lot better.
While the Tossers may have gotten a bit closer to Murphy’s aggressiveness and Molly’s authenticity on their latest album, Agony, they still seemingly have light years to go before they could ever be mentioned in the same breath as their Celtic-punk brethren.
Songs like “Did It All for You” and “Pub and Culture” feel like you would be more likely to hear them at a ho-down rather than a jukebox in an Irish pub. On these two songs the Tossers undoubtedly cross that extremely fine line between bluegrass and traditional Celtic music. The result is a purgatory that becomes a quick reason to hit the “next” button.
Then the windy city septet make an un-formidable effort at balladry. When lead singer Tony Duggins croons with his fake-Irish accent “I am your conscience, let me in” on “Shake”, Agony simply becomes annoying. As if a wannabe Irishman doing wannabe Irish music isn’t irritating enough, “Shake” is less than two minutes of the most desperate attempt at Celtic authenticity ever recorded.
Naptime doesn’t get any better either. “Not Forgotten” is political and slow. And while music and politics have always dated each other, “Not Forgotten” suggests a break up. Duggins’s mandolin tries really hard to set a mood of ambience and honesty. When it doesn’t completely work, the song becomes whiny and predictable.
Then, when the Tossers look for the middle ground between balladry and beer-drinking, fist-pumping Celtic rock, they find watered down five-month-old cheese. “Movin' On” is almost as bad as it gets. While it is obvious the band thinks that a banjo and fiddle over a pleasant 6/8 time acoustic guitar should be enough to make them seem genuine, it only makes them appear silly. “Even if you have done something wrong / The rest of the world moves on” is a line that is only made more absurd by the way Duggins presents it. It is so generic, it sounds like something he undoubtedly heard first from Big Bird on Sesame Street 20 years ago.
Even on the album’s best spots, like “Never Enough” and “Be”, it’s hard to believe that you are listening to something that made it to its level of intention. “Never Enough”, the album’s first track is dramatic and the closest thing the band comes to being Irish. The song’s start-stop feel combined with the fast, aggressive mandolin driven chorus asks the listener to grab a Guinness and sit down.
“Be” is as happy as the Tossers can get, and poppy enough to finally tap your foot to. But it’s also the last track. The last of 17. By the time Duggins wistfully repeats the line “You can be what you want to be” for the 739th time, the eject button has already been pressed and you are on your way down to the local used CD store.
And it’s poetic. The one thing the Tossers really, really wish they were is Irish. They aren’t. They were born in the south side of Chicago. That makes a big difference when you are a band that has spent nearly 15 years trying to sound like a band that came from Ireland. Maybe they should reconsider their mantra and realize that sometimes you simply can’t always be what you want to be.